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In the Philippines, Coordinating Flood Rescue Through Google Docs

BY Miranda Neubauer | Tuesday, August 7 2012

The government of the Philippines is using Google Docs and promoting the use of Google Crisis Response tools as it responds to massive floods that have submerged a third of the country's capital city, Manila, and have killed more than 50 people in the past week, according to New York Times reports.

Many of the affected population have been using Twitter to spread information or call for help, and the Google Doc is being promoted under the popular hashtag #rescueph.

The main Google Doc is being used to collect submitted calls for rescue that affected residents or their family can submit via a Google form indicating their specific address, the specifics of the situation and the identity or Twitter identity of the person making the report. The Google Doc says that the reports will be mapped and reported to the appropriate rescue groups.

"Please help my grandparents," one post reads, "trapped in the second floor of their house."

Another submitted post calls for help for "four families trapped in a house."

"86 year-old couple stuck on rooftop since last night," reads another.

"Two families ... stranded at the rooftop since this morning with four small children and 1 pregnant woman," explains a third.

The entries are color coded, with dark red indicating urgency and green meant to show that a person has been rescued. Because some rows are skipped, it is not that easy to to tell exactly how many entries there are, but there seem to be several hundred.

The government of the Philippines has also been broadcasting information over social media, and has consolidated some of those alerts using Storify.

Google also launched its Person Finder tool, part of its Google Crisis Response effort, earlier today. It was built in response to the January 2010 Haiti earthquake, and lets users submit names of people they are looking for or provide information that they have. Google Person Finder also accepts data from other registries using the PFIF format.

"The Google Crisis Response team analyzes the scale of impact of the disaster and then determines which of its tools would be most useful for responding to the given situation," Google says in an FAQ about the tool. A Google page created in response to the crisis also maps shelters in the affected areas and real time modeling of flood inundation along the Marikina River.

TechinAsia also noted the existence of other hashtags, such as #PrayforthePhilippines, aimed at those outside the country who want to offer moral support, and other hashtags focused on general news about the floods and general relief issues. The website also noted that the recently launched government platform Project Noah appeared to be struggling under heavy traffic.

Authorities in Beijing recently came under criticism for the limited information and updates they provided during heavy floods, and citizens ended up starting their own mapping efforts, in part using Google tools that ended up being more up-to-date than government sites. But it remains an open question whether the full thrust of Google tools could be used in China during a similar disaster, given the restrictions Google operates under there.

Personal Democracy Media is thankful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.